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Monday, August 24, 2009

Previewing the Coming Term (Part 1): Maryland v. Shatzer

Stockburger [This is the first in a series of posts by CrimProf’s graduate fellow, Peter Stockburger (University of San Diego Class of 2009), previewing the criminal law and procedure cases scheduled for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this coming term. Peter excerpts and paraphrases the briefs of the parties to provide an overview of the cases and the advocates’ arguments. Links to the briefs of the parties appear at the end of the summary.]

Docket No: 08-680
Case:  Maryland v. Shatzer
Oral Argument Date:  October 5, 2009

Issue:  Whether Edwards v. Arizona (1981), which bars police from initiating questioning with criminal suspects who have invoked their right to counsel, applies to interrogation that takes place nearly three years after the initial interrogation and invocation of right to counsel.

Factual and Procedural History:  In August 2003, acting on information that respondent, Michael Shatzer, Sr., had sexually abused his three-year-old son, Maryland police interviewed respondent in prison where he was serving a sentence on unrelated charges.  Shatzer invoked his right to counsel and ended the interrogation.  Subsequently, the investigation was closed. 

In March 2006, nearly three years later, Shatzer’s son provided Maryland police with additional information about the alleged sexual abuse.  Shortly thereafter, a different police officer informed Shatzer, who was still incarcerated, that a new investigation had been initiated.  Shatzer waived his Miranda rights and denied the new allegations that he forced his son to perform oral sex on him, but admitted to masturbating in front of his son.  Several days later, Shatzer was again given his Miranda rights, but then failed a polygraph test.  Maryland police immediately questioned Shatzer thereafter, at which time he began to cry and say, “I didn’t force him. I didn’t force him.” Shatzer then requested an attorney, the interview ended, and he was subsequently charged with sexually abusing his son.

At trial, Shatzer filed a motion to suppress his March 2006 statements on the ground that, under Edwards, his 2003 invocation of his right to counsel barred police from interrogating him in 2006 without an attorney present.  The trial court denied the motion, holding that his continuous incarceration on an unrelated offense for nearly three years constituted a break in custody for Miranda purposes, thereby terminating Edwards’s prohibition on re-interrogation.  The court subsequently found Shatzer guilty of sexual abuse.

The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed, holding that under Edwards, once the right to counsel is asserted, the suspect may not be re-interrogated until he is provided with counsel or he voluntarily initiates communication.  The Court stated that “the passage of time alone” will not end Edwards protections.  Any “break in custody” exception to Edwards must mean something different than “custody” for Miranda purposes and, regardless, is inapplicable to an inmate who has been continuously incarcerated between interrogations.

Maryland filed a petition for certiorari in which it asked the Supreme Court to grant review to resolve disagreement in the lower courts on whether the Edwards prohibition on re-interrogation may terminate as a result of either a break in custody or a substantial lapse in time. The petition was granted on January 26, 2009.

Summary of Petitioner Argument:  According to Petitioner (Maryland), the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling was an “unwarranted extension” of the Edwards rule.  Petitioner argues Edwards and its progeny only applied to similarly-situated suspects; where each person was held for questioning and subjected to a second interrogation within three days of the request for counsel.  Petitioner argues this case is distinguishable as there was a break in custody and a substantial passage of time.  Therefore, Edwards should not apply. 

Petitioner argues, from a policy perspective, that Miranda and its progeny “make[] clear” that a per se ban on voluntary confessions is unwarranted when the purposes behind Miranda and Edwards would not be served.  Consequently, construing Edwards to encompass cases “involving a long break in custody or a substantial lapse of time does not protect against coerced confessions and needlessly impairs police investigations.”  Therefore, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that found a presumption of coercion cannot be justified, and should be reversed.

Summary of Respondent Argument:  According to Respondent (Shatzer), the Maryland Court of Appeals properly applied Edwards, and thus the judgment should be affirmed.  Respondent argues he remained in “continuous government custody for a period of two years and seven months and was re-interrogated about the same criminal allegations without counsel present.”  Consequently, Respondent argues Edwards should bar any use of subsequently acquired statements made by him while in custody, even if they were produced nearly three years after the initial interrogation.

According to Respondent, Edwards “represents a bright-line rule.”  Therefore, restricting its application to only periods of temporary investigative custody would defeat the four main pillars that support the ruling’s purpose:  (1) ensuring confessions are the product of free choice and not coercion; (2) providing clear and unequivocal guidance to law enforcement and the courts; (3) preventing police officers from badgering suspects, and (4) maintaining confidence in the administration of the criminal justice system.

According to Respondent, even if the Court does recognize an exception to Edwards for breaks in custody, such an exception would not apply here because Respondent invoked his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, was continually incarcerated without access to counsel, and did not initiate contact with the police before a detective returned to question him two years later.

  • Brief for Petitioner State of Maryland
  • Brief for Respondent Michael Blaine Shatzer
  • Reply Brief for Petitioner State of Maryland
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